UPDATE: Taylor Berger has called a neighborhood meeting regarding the Truck Stop, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at First Congo church. Neighbors are invited.
A hip new combination restaurant/food truck hub moving onto the corner of Cooper and Central is generating positive buzz, though some neighbors are lamenting the loss of Midtown’s only independent landscaping business and putting up a fight to save it.
Truck Stop is set to occupy the northwest corner next year. Taylor Berger, the driving force behind YoLo, Chiwawa and Tamp & Tap and founder of Memphis Food Truck Association, said he’d been working on the concept for two years and searching for a location for six months before he called Loeb Properties about the corner lot, where Midtown Nursery’s lease was set to expire in March.
“We looked up and saw that railroad and all those trees and said, ‘Yeah that would be perfect,’” Berger said.
Inside an architect-designed space built from stacked, reclaimed shipping containers, a restaurant will serve small plates and desserts. But aside from the architecture, what sets Truck Stop apart will be the rotating daily selection of food trucks bringing a variety of foods to the corner, day and night, almost like a food court.
Berger hopes to operate the hub 24 hours a day, if he’s able to keep it up. “I don’t think we have enough 24-hour stuff in Memphis,” he said.
Food truck hubs are already operating in other cities like Atlanta, but Berger said Truck Stop will be the first in the country to integrate the concept within a restaurant. About 40 diners can sit inside a seating area and bar, while picnic tables will seat about 100 outside.
The shipping container design, while innovative, has elicited confusion from some commenters online. Berger said the containers reflect the location’s proximity to the freight railroad that still rumbles overhead above the lot, as well as Midtown’s historic connection to the railroads and Memphis’ status as a world shipping hub.
“I’m not doing just cause I think it’s cool,” Berger said. “I’m doing it because I think it tells a story and I think it will get Memphis a lot of press.”
The small, awkward triangular lot on a busy corner could make parking a challenge, but Berger said after hearing comments from the community on the parking issue, his team tweaked the design to increase parking from 10 spaces to about 20.
He plans more community dialogue with Cooper-Young and Idlewild neighbors to make his vision fit with the neighborhood.
“The Truck Stop will not be a ‘parking lot’ for trucks, but rather an innovative structural design of inside/outside space using recycled shipping containers,” wrote Truck Stop supporter Maria Levina of Memphis on a Facebook page debating the restaurant. “Architecturally speaking it is actually rather neat and will serve CY community.”
But an online petition to save current tenant Midtown Nursery garnered more than 100 signatures and some heated online commentary.
“This nursery is a great asset to this neighborhood; to Midtown in general. We need to promote independently owned and operated businesses,” wrote Amy McDaniel of Memphis on the online petition site. “Also, there is not adequate parking for a food truck stop. This business would only aggravate an already congested intersection and create more of a hazard for cyclists and drivers alike.”
Mike Earnest, owner of Midtown Nursery, said his first choice would be to stay in the corner location he has occupied since 2009, or move to a vacant lot across Central, but neither seems to be an option now. He is lining up temporary properties at Madison and McLean, and on Poplar near East High School, and said wherever he goes, he wants to keep his business in Midtown.
The nursery just received a shipment of Christmas trees.
Berger will face the Memphis and Shelby County Board of Adjustment in December for a variance that will allow construction with shipping containers, but he said there’s no slowing down the Truck Stop now.
“The restaurant will open no matter what,” he said. “We’re just hoping we can make it really special.”